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Read Virgo the Maiden for meanings and traits of the sun-sign Virgo.


Star Lore of the Constellations: Virgo the Maiden - by Deborah Houlding

Notable stars in Virgo: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
27 Vi. 10 Zavijava Mercury/ Mars 3.8 Near head of maiden 01N 02N
04 Li. 31 Zaniah Mercury/ Venus 4 Southern wing 02N 00N
09 Li. 57 Vindemiatrix Saturn/ Mercury 3.0 Northern Wing 16N 11N
10 Li. 08 Porrima Mercury/ Venus 2.9 Maiden's waist 03N 01S
11 Li. 28 Auva Mercury/ Venus 3.7 Maiden's stomach 09N 03N
21 Li. 53 Heze Mercury/ Venus 3.4 Maiden's thigh or girdle 09N 00N
23 Li. 50 Spica Venus/ Mars 1.2 Ear of corn in maiden's left hand 02S 11S
03 Sc. 48 Syrma Mercury/ Mars 4.2 Hem of dress 07N 06S
06 Sc. 57 Khambalia Mercury/ Mars 4.6 Left foot 00N 14S

Virgo is the only female figure in the zodiac and as such has been associated with most of the main female deities: Ishtar, Innana, Aphrodite, Ceres, Demeter, Astraea, Erigone, Isis; and in Christian symbolism, the Virgin Mary. The zodiac figure is generally depicted as a winged maiden holding a palm branch in her right hand and an ear of corn in her left. The palm branch is an ancient symbol of rejoicing, triumph and glorification. The ancient Egyptians used a branch of Palm stripped of its leaves to mark the passage of years and the hieroglyphic of the Palm thus became a symbol for words such as 'year', 'time' or 'season'. Palm branches were waved in jubilation at important seasonal ceremonies to celebrate the rule of a king or annual festivals. The ear of corn held in the right hand clearly links the constellation to the season of agricultural harvest or expectation.

The roots of the symbolism of Virgo as the earth goddess holding a spike of corn can be traced to the ancient Mesopotamian period. Rupert Gleadow argues that although the Sun's passage through the sign marks the period of harvest, the Mesopotamians would have placed most significance upon the time that the full Moon illuminated its stars during the Sun's transit of Pisces. [1] For the Mesopotamians this occurred in early spring, just as the first signs of corn appeared above the ground. Thus the Babylonian reference for the constellation was Ab Sin, 'the Furrow', depicting the virgin land about to bear its fruit. By the classical era the Sun's transit through the zodiac sign had taken precedence and Virgo became more directly perceived as a Maiden of fruition through the Harvest. Even so, much of the ancient mythology attached to the sign combines allegory concerned with harvesting the fruits of the earth, or the period of germination. Some have argued that the constellation depicts 'the woman and her seed', with the palm branch being seen as an ancient symbol for the seed. [2]

The original Virgo is believed to be the early grain goddess Nidoba who, prior to Nabu (the Babylonian god of wisdom, justice and 'the scribe'), was an important goddess of writing. As Nabu rose to prominence he absorbed the worship of Nidoba and became identified with the planet Mercury, which reinforced the scholarly associations of the constellation through that planet's rulership and exaltation in the sign. In Babylonian myth, the identification between Virgo and the grain goddess led the constellation figure to be personified as Ishtar, the consort of the corn god Tammuz. The essence of the myth is that Tammuz was overcome by the lord of death at autumn and carried to the Underworld. Ishtar, in grief, travelled to the Underworld, threatened to break down the gates and free the dead unless Tammuz was released. But she was taken prisoner and smitten with disease, and during the period of her absence all earthly fertility was denied. When the gods of Heaven heard the dreaded news and saw the devastation of the earth they sent an order that Ishtar and Tammuz must be released. Ishtar had been stripped naked in her ceremonial entrance through the gates of the underworld but it was ordered that she return with due ceremony; she was sprinkled with the creative Waters of Life and her garments and jewels were ceremoniously replaced so that she could re-emerge into the world of the living in her full strength and glory.

The myth is a celebration of the ongoing cycle of the seasons and has been adapted into the tale of many subsequent female deities including Ceres - the Roman goddess of corn and harvest, often directly linked with Virgo by the Greeks - Proserpina, Persephone, Demeter and Aphrodite.

Two other prominent figures associated with the constellation during the classical period are Erigone and Astraea. Astraea was the Roman goddess of Justice and the administration of law, depicted as holding the Scales of Libra in her hand. Sickened by the wars of men, she was the last of the celestial beings to leave the earth for the heavens and is often depicted with the wings that allowed her angelic ascension to the stars.

Erigone was the name by which the first century astrologer Manilius referred to the constellation. As the sign of the harvest, Virgo held strong connections with the time that grapes were gathered for the production of wine and Erigone represents an aspect of this association. She was the daughter of Icarius, who received the secret of wine making from the Wine God, Dionysius, and was murdered by peasants who believed they had been poisoned by his wine. Erigone was led to discover his body by their faithful dog and hanged herself in grief. The gods were moved to pity over the tragedy and transported the family to everlasting glory in the heavens : Icarius became Boötes. Erigone became Virgo, and the dog Maera, the constellation Canis Minor. Despite the fact that Astraea and Erigone were separate deities their identities often became confused even in the classical period, so although Manilius refers to the constellation by the name of Erigone, he describes traits that clearly originate from the myth of the goddess of justice:

At her rising Erigone, who reigned with Justice over a bygone age and fled when it fell into sinful ways, bestows high eminence by bestowing supreme power; she will produce a man to direct the laws of the state and the sacred code; one who will tend with reverence the hallowed temples of the gods. [3]

Manilius's description of the traits of Virgo directly influences later accounts of the meanings of its stars. He clearly describes an emphasis that accords with our modern view of Virgo being the sign of purity, prudence, diplomacy, discerning mental vision, secretarial skills, analytical tendencies and a retiring disposition:

The temperaments of those whose span of life she pronounces at their birth Erigone will direct to study, and she will train their minds in the learned arts. She will give not so much abundance of wealth as the impulse to investigate the causes and effects of things. On them she will confer a tongue which charms, the mastery of words, and that mental vision which can discern all things, however concealed they be by the mysterious workings of nature. From the Virgin will also come the stenographer: his letter represents a word, and by means of his symbols he can keep ahead of utterance and record in novel notation the long speech of the rapid speaker. But with the good there comes a flaw: bashfulness handicaps the early years of such persons, for the Maid, by holding back their great natural gifts, puts a bridle on their lips and restrains them by the curb of authority. And (small wonder in a Virgin) her offspring is not fruitful. [4]

Thus, through Manilius, we see the stars of Virgo defined as relevant to civil and ecclesiastical law, ingenuity, intellectual capacity, discerning judgement and discretion. Although this poorly connects with the imagery of the earthy grain goddess, such traits relate to the activities of harvest, which require the produce to be weighed and measured, calculated, categorised and labeled. Influences involving promotion through benefits associated with such matters are strongly evidenced within the meaning of particular stars, especially in the case of the main star, Spica, the 14th brightest star in the sky.

Spica is a brilliant white binary star marking the Ear of corn in the maiden's left hand. Deviant titles include Spicum, Spigha, Stachys, stakhus (Greek: 'ear of corn'), Arista (Latin, 'ear of grain'), Aristae Puella (Latin: 'grain maiden') and Spica Virginis or 'Virgin's Spike'. In ancient Egypt the star was associated with the Nile goddess Isis and temples in the ruined city of Akhenaton appear to have been aligned to its rising and setting. As was generally the case in ancient astrology the principle star characterised the entire constellation, which was known to the Egyptians as the 'most dedicated wife'.

An Egyptian Coptic title was Khoritos, 'Solitary', on account of Spica being such a notably brilliant star in an otherwise poorly lit area of the sky. This visible isolation has contributed to a reputation of being unfruitful or unfortunate for marriage, but otherwise Spica is considered a very fortunate star, particularly for those concerned with arts, sciences, law or religion. Ptolemy noted its influence as like that of Venus and, in a less degree, that of Mars but it is often described in a manner that suits a Mercury-Venus temperament and it is said to promote fortune in all matters related to 'Veneriall or Mercuriall men'. [5]

William Lilly noted that Spica prenotes the Native to attaine the chiefest Degree of Ecclesiasticall preferment, or a rich Benefice, with applause and great Estimation, and substance attending it, and all these for the admirable parts of his ingenuity; all matters or affairs he has to do with Veneriall or Mercuriall men, succeed well. Of the general nature of the star he wrote that it expressed a person:

of sweet disposition, diligent in attaining Arts and Sciences, or a most admirable invention when Mercury is with him; if Saturn be there it imports a suspicious person, sharp and rugged, violent in dispute; if Mars be with Spica, it presupposes a rigid person, and yet a fool, or little better."

Of the direction of the midheaven to Spica Lilly wrote:

Unexpected Honour or Preferment is conferred on the Native beyond his hopes or capacity, and many times it affords power of life or death over others : most Astrologians doe hold the mid-heaven directed to the Virgins Spike, to signifie Church preferment; but it must act according to the Birth or capacity of the Native…

While of the direction of the Moon to the star he notes:

It contributes unto the Native, store of Wealth, and Plenty of Honour, for his excellent parts and endowments of the Mind, and therefore he receives from Mercurial, Veneriall and Joviall Persons.

These and similar passages from the basis of many later texts, the overriding significance being favourable conditions attached to public and legal affairs, and success through inventiveness and the mercurial arts.

In defining the nature of the stars of Virgo Ptolemy wrote:

"... those in the head and the one upon the tip of the southern wing have an effect like Mercury and, in less degree, of Mars; the other bright stars of the wing and those on the girdles like that of Mercury and, in a measure, of Venus; the bright star in the northern wing, called Vindemiator, like those of Saturn and Mercury; the so called Spica, like that of Venus and, in a less degree, that of Mars; those in the tips of the feet and the train like that of Mercury and, in a less degree, Mars." [6]

The star upon the tip of the southern wing is Zavijava, thus attributed a Mercury-Mars influence. Like most of the stars of Virgo it shines with a yellow hue. Robson claims that it is symbolically called 'the correct weighing' and has an influence that allows 'benefice, force of character, strength, combative movements and destructiveness'. [7]

The stars that Ptolemy refers to as belonging to the wing and the girdles, and thus demonstrating a Mercury-Venus nature, include Zaniah, Porrima, Auva, and Heze.

Eric Morse in The Living Stars [8] says about the Mercury-Venus nature of Zaniah; The name must bring a smile to astrologers who often associate Mercury with money and Venus with love, and Ptolemy having put the money first for Zaniyah means "Adulteress" or "Harlot". But others have translated the name as referring to an angel [9] which is more in keeping with its general nature - defined by Robson as giving refinement, honour, congeniality, order and a loveable nature. (p.218)

Porrima is the second brightest star in Virgo; it has a variable yellow light and shines on the maiden's waist. Porrima is the Latin title and honours one of the sisters, Porrima and Postverta, who attended the Roman goddess of Prophecy and writing Carmenta, who was said to assist a woman in labour and to tell the future of the newborn. The Arabic title is Caphir meaning 'infidel' which some say reflects the Islamic revulsion of pagan goddesses. Robson claimed that it is called 'An Atonement Offering' and offers a courteous, refined and loveable character with prophetic instincts. With the Sun it is said to show involvement with intrigue; legal troubles are indicated if it is connected to an afflicted Mercury.

Little is recorded concerning the influence of Auva and Heze. Auva is a golden yellow star on the maiden's stomach. The name appears to derive from a Gilkesh term meaning 'womb', 'fruit' or anything swollen. Heze is located on the thigh. Belonging to the eleventh Moon-mansion, both stars are accorded an influence that gives benevolence, gain, voyages, harvests and freedom of captives.

Vindemiatrix, which Ptolemy defined as like Saturn and Mercury, and referred to as 'the bright star in the northern wing', is the third brightest star of the constellation, being less brilliant now than it was in Ptolemy's day. The name is a feminised Latin deviation of the original Greek name, Provindemiator, meaning 'the Grape Gatherer', since the heliacal rising of this star announced the time to pick the grapes. Aratus in his Phainomena [10] referred to it as the 'Fruit-plucking Herald'. Although symbolically associated with a time of harvest and thus, one would assume, associated with the rewards of previous efforts, it is generally accorded an unfortunate influence in keeping with its predominantly Saturnine nature. Robson claims that it gives falsity, disgrace, stealing, wanton folly and often causes its natives to become widows (p.215); but Ebertin and Hoffman probably give a more reliable assessment of the influence saying:

On the MC or on the Ascendant this star with its Saturn-Mercury nature is said to help mental concentration and to promote the type of native who engages for architects and businessmen. Tied up with Mars, it results in increased power of thought, tending sometimes to sarcasm and polemics. With Mars also, a danger of injuries is indicated. Badly placed, and especially so if in conjunction with Saturn or Neptune, this star is said to cause a tendency to depressive moods, skepticism a distrustful nature. Tied up with Mercury, this star, if otherwise badly placed, will lead to nervous irritability. [11]

The remaining stars of note are Syrma and Khambalia, located in the feet and train and therefore attributed a Mercury-Mars influence.

Syrma is named after a Greek word meaning 'train of a dress', recognising its location on the hem of the maiden's robe. It relates to the 13th Arabic mansion, Al Ghafr, 'the Covering', and being 'under the skirt of the Virgin' is often linked to occult sciences, secret wisdom, and a sharp, penetrating mind that has the ability to extract hidden truths.

Khambalia is situated on the left foot of the figure and according to Robson the name derives from the Coptic meaning 'crooked-clawed'. He states that it causes swift violence, unreliability, changeability and an argumentative nature', (p.173) According to Dr Eric Morse "Khambalia is very much a star of the penetration of secrets. It denotes those good at applying intellect to deep research of any kind, to police type investigation, espionage and also to such pursuits as alchemy and the esoteric in general." Morse also suggests that the crooked-claw title refers to a device similar to that we call the Swastika, "whose ancient symbolism contained the idea of secret knowledge, accessible to us, but only if one knows the way to get to it, as we also find with the maze in other cultures".

Virgo is the largest of the zodiac constellations and second largest of all the constellations after Hydra. It is a difficult constellation to identify because most of its stars are faint and, being widely spread, makes a poor impact as a connected group. Only Spica and Porrima are brighter than 3rd magnitude. Spica is, however, relatively easy to find. It forms the southern tip of a triangle with Arcturus on the left and regulus on the right. First locate orange Arcturus - follow the curve of the Big Dipper's handle away from the bowl, Arcturus will be found at about twice the length of the handle. Continue the arc used to locate Arcturus and keep on that path. A mnemonic device for remembering how to find Spica is "Arc to Arcturus, then speed on to Spica."
The best time to view Virgo is during May (around 9pm).
The Sun crosses Zavijava around 20th September each year; it crosses Zaniah around 27th September; Vindemiatrix and Porrima around 3rd October; Auva around 4th October; Heze around 15th October; Spica around 18th October; Syrma around 27th October and Khambalia around 30th October.

Notes & References:
  1 ] Rupert Gleadow, Origin of the Zodiac, 1968, Published by Jonathan Cape Ltd, p.169 & 213.
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  2 ] See for example Common Roots Of Ancient Mythology: Virgo = Woman And Her Seed
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  3 ] Manilius, Astronomica, 4.542-547 (Loeb p.265).
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  4 ] Ibid., 4.180-303 (Loeb pp.237-239).
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  5 ] Lilly, Christian Astrology, 1647, p.667.
Other references from Christian Astrology include:
General character of star, p.537,
Relevant to Ecclesiastical Preferment, p.620,
Direction of ascendant to Spica, p.667,
Direction of Midheaven to Spica, pp.678-679,
Direction of Sun to Spica, p.690,
Direction of Moon to Spica, p.701.
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  6 ] Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, (1st century AD), Harvard Heinemann, Loeb Classical Library; 1.9 (Loeb p.49-51).
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  7 ] Vivian Robson, The Fixed Stars and Constellations, 1923, republished by Ascella, p.215
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  8 ] Dr Eric Morse, The Living Stars, 1988, Amethyst Books, ISBN 0-944256-02-3.
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  9 ] See for example:
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  10 ] Aratus, Phainomena, (3rd century BC), Harvard Heinemann, Loeb Classical Library; 240-250 (Loeb p.277).
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  11 ] Ebertin & Hoffman, Fixed Stars and their Interpretation, trans. Irmgard Banks (Tempe, AZ: The American Federation of Astrologers, 1971), p.59.
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© Deborah Houlding

Stars & Constellations